Last of Us Devs Had to Fight for Everything Female

The Last of Us

As you may know, Naughty Dog’s upcoming post-apocalyptic tale The Last of Us stars a pair of main characters: a grizzly, bearded man named Joel, and a teenage girl named Ellie who bears a passing resemblance to Ellen Page. However, as the developers do publicity and interviews in preparation for the game’s upcoming release, it’s becoming more and more clear that Naughty Dog had to fight to keep Ellie in the spotlight. I find that particularly interesting because Ellie is by far the more memorable and striking of the two characters.

For example, in a recent interview with The Escapist, Naughty Dog’s Neil Druckmann explained that “the research group wasn’t planning on focus-testing female gamers – it’s something we had to specifically request”. This paired with the fact that they also had to insist that Ellie be included on the cover of the game paints the state of game marketing in a particularly dispiriting light. Apparently the going wisdom is that women don’t play videogames, so they shouldn’t focus test them, and men won’t buy games with women on the cover.

Assuming that women don’t play videogames is simply not true, but who are these gamers who won’t buy games with women on the cover, and why is the industry letting them dictate content? I don’t want to be associated with that sort of thinking. I want more games like the modern Tomb Raider and Bioshock Infinite. I firmly believe the only way to play Mass Effect is with a female Shepard because Jennifer Hale kicks so much ass.

What is it going to take for the industry to realize that women can and should have more starring roles in games? The film industry still isn’t quite sure that women can anchor tentpole releases, but movies like Twilight and The Hunger Games have started to turn the tide. Along those lines, I do wonder if part of the problem is the gaming industry’s current focus on shooters; not that women don’t play them, but that marketers assume they can only be targeted towards 16-year old boys. Will it take another genre’s rise in prominence to change that viewpoint? I hope not.

How about you? Have you ever talked to someone who genuinely wasn’t interested in playing a game because it had a female main character? Did you punch them in the face a little? I hope you did.

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Someday I will die under a pile of books, movies and music. Until then, I'll eke out my time spent in sunny Los Angeles, California by working on the Great American Blog Post.

4 thoughts on “Last of Us Devs Had to Fight for Everything Female”

  1. Thankfully I’ve never met anyone so narrow minded as these marketers. Their thought process is unfathomable. How could this even be a genuine conclusion, that women’s opinion doesn’t fucking matter? The whole women and games issues that have been cropping up more frequently lately are making me question what is wrong with the world. Are there really this many people that are so backwards with their attitude? I just don’t get it.

  2. In all seriousness, a female character on a game cover is more of an incentive for me to by it. In this day and age I’m so accustomed to seeing the white male (or faceless man in armor) with a weapon on the cover that a deviation from that is extremely welcome. Not to mention, as the recent Tomb Raider, Elaina Fisher, and Mass Effect’s many female characters have showed, there’s a lot of untapped potential from strong female characters. Hopefully the success of the game’s that did it right will influence the future.

  3. I find it sad that developers and publishers see having strong female characters on the cover and in the game as hurting the game and image itself. I’m glad that more and more people are being vocal about this and we are seeing more examples in high profile games like the Tomb Raider reboot and Bioshock Infinite (both of which I still need to play).

  4. This is the hot topic right now in the industry with multiple posts per day on games industry sites, talks and conferences at GDC and generally lots of talking about it. Like most complex issues there are many small problems that combine to make this bigger one, you suggested the main genre of gaming, age of gamers etc. By talking about it and making people aware that it’s an issue is the first step in breaking the smaller issues down and I believe it shows we are growing up as an industry even if it is just a tiny step in the right direction.

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